Category Archives: Uncategorized

Healing hurts in the face of fear

Susan, a friend and a fellow missionary kid, has written of a time of terror, a moment of fear, when she was four or five years old. She starts her story like this:

The early 1960s in Indonesia were years of political upheaval. The Communist party was strong and growing in power. There were protest marches in our city against Malaysia and against the British. I remember the air raid drills in Surabaya when I was 4 or 5 years old. The siren would blow and every light had to be turned off.  We sat in the dark until the siren blew again. If it happened during dinner time, Mom put a sock over a flashlight and fed my baby brother by its faint glow.

One night while we were sleeping, someone painted anti-British signs all over the front wall of our house, right outside the window of my bedroom. My dad asked Supii, who worked at our home, to clean the wall. I didn’t know at the time what all of those signs meant but I watched as they slowly disappeared behind the layers of whitewash.

I have a similar story to start out telling.

The late 1960s in Vietnam were years of political upheaval. The Communist party was strong and growing in power. There were protest marches in America against the Pentagon and against the President. I remember the ARVN field drills in Thủ Đức when I was 4 or 5 years old. The smell of tear gas would overwhelm the pungency of red earth. We watched from the ditch along the dirt road, the smoothest surface for us neighborhood kids to chơi bi (“play marbles”). If it was closer to dinner time, Mom would call us into the yard of the house protected by fencing of barbed wire.

One night while we were sleeping, machine gun fire and bursts of rockets erupted next to our house, right outside the window of my bedroom. My dad had carried me and my two siblings into the bathroom where we hid under a mattress with my mom. I didn’t know at the time what all of the racket meant on this Tết Nguyên Đán (Lunar New Year 1968).

Susan goes on with what happens next. When I read these two paragraphs a couple of days ago, I was deeply moved.

I couldn’t sleep one night. I imagined someone was standing outside my window. When I called out to my dad and told him I was afraid, he took me outside onto our front porch.

It was dark and quiet. No street lamps. We looked up.  Dad pointed out God’s creation—the moon, the stars. They were bright in the night sky. He reminded me of God’s presence with us. There was no need to be afraid. I felt peaceful, no longer fearful. I went back to bed and fell sound asleep.

I was taken back by Susan’s story to a moment when my dad was battling the cancer that came into his lungs when he and my mom were back in Vietnam. It was their first trip there after the war. They had returned with dear friends, Vietnamese orphans who had escaped Vietnam and had grown up in America, and with the orphanage director and his wife, who had led their escape. Dad’s fight against the disease started with a cough that wouldn’t go away. They were in a bus on a pungent dirt road. Or he was out talking with folks, laughing with them, recalling Vietnamese phrases long since pushed away by bits of Mandarin and Cantonese, by Karo Batak, by Bahasa Indonesia. He found his Vietnamese voice again while praying in the floor, with a new friend, diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. Dad was coughing. Praying and coughing. It was later diagnosed as a late stage disease, spread into the spine and as multiple tumors in the brain. At their home in the USA, Dad agreed to go outside for a walk. Under the big Texas sky he reminded me of God’s presence with us. There was no need to be afraid, he said.

But the story rewinds further back to just after Tet 1968.

I couldn’t sleep one night. My dad, who stayed in our house in Vietnam, had come for a two week visit with our family in our high rise apartment in Thailand.

I had been caught smashing the tile roofs of the houses below the balcony of our apartment. I had enlisted the help of another missionary kid to gather big rocks into the elevator and onto the landing, for this very purpose. Dad had punished me as a good father should, and on top of that I was banished from the swimming pool for two weeks. Worse, he had made me go with him to apologize to the families whose homes had been damaged. That night I could not get the unhappiness registered on their faces out of my head. If I was truly sad for them, I recall being afraid that they might somehow retaliate.

Now I’m telling my stories backwards, in reverse. My family has laughed many times together about my little missionary kid mischief and my responses to Dad’s punishment. What I’m recently impressed with, nonetheless, is how deep the impact of trauma on us humans at any age and how kind God is to bring us to places of healing, usually in the face of fear.

Advertisements

On Reading the Greek Bible, as a glutton

My absolutely favorite blogpost written by Rachel Held Evans is the one she entitles, Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.

Unfortunately, she wrote this one, against bullying, against “calling other people” names and calling them out, as she herself uses her blog and the CNN blog to call out those she regards as bullies, namely men named Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, and most recently Dave Ramsey. Fortunately, she confesses “our” tendency, in bold font, saying,

In short, we like to gang up.

And fortunately, she goes on, confessing more, in bold font, saying,

After all, when God became flesh and lived among us, the religious accused him of hanging out with “sinners” (even gluttons!) never realizing that this was the whole point, that there were only “sinners” to hang out with.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize the biblical, literal, problems with “gluttony.” To make her point, she quotes

passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

Unfortunately, these are not always so easily literally to be taken as focused like a precise laser beam on “gluttony.” I mean, look at this little bit by one writer on the problems of connecting some of the words in some of these texts, with gluttony, and I quote (from):

Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament

Gluttonous

GLUTTONOUS. —In Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34 we are informed that our Lord was reproached as a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. The Greek is alike in both passages— ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης . The English versions are probably right in their rendering of φάγος and οἱνοπότης as implying intemperate excess. But this hardly lies in the words themselves. φάγος (Liddell and Scott, s.v. ) is found only in these passages and in later ecclesiastical writers. οἰνοπότης does by usage (not by etymology) imply excess (Anacreon, 98; Call. Ep. 37; Polyb. xx. 8. 2). In Proverbs 23:20 it answers to סבא יַיִן ‘one who is drunken with wine’ (cf. Deuteronomy 21:20 , Ezekiel 23:42 , Hosea 4:18 for use of the Heb. root); and it is parallel with μέθυσος in Proverbs 23:21 . In Proverbs 31:4 (24:72 Swete) the verb οἱνοποτέω occurs in the bad sense. But it is possible that the real force of the insult to our Lord is shown by Deuteronomy 21:20 . The rebellious son is to be brought by his parents to the elders, to whom the parents are to say, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice, he is a riotous liver and a drunkard.’ He is then to be executed by stoning. It is true that the LXX Septuagint here συμβολοκοπῶν οἰνοφλυγεῖ has no resemblance to the phrase in the Gospels, but Proverbs 23:20 has μηδὲ ἐκτείνου συμβολαῖς as one half of the doublet, ‘among gluttonous eaters of flesh’ ( בִּוֹלְלֵי בָשָׂר ); and in Proverbs 23:21 Aq . [Note: Aquila.] , Sym., Theod. [Note: Theodotion.] agree in using the Deuteronomic word συμβολοκόπος for ולל . Delitzsch in his Heb. NT uses the words found in Deuteronomy 21:20 .

We need not wonder at the non-agreement with the LXX Septuagint. For the discourse has several indications of having been spoken in Aramaic, such as the paronomasia probably to be found in the cry of the children (Matthew 11:17 , Luke 7:32 ‘danced’ and ‘wept’; cf. Farrar, Life of Christ , i. 92; and the Peshitta), and the variation ἔργωντἐκνων ( Matthew 11:19 , Luke 7:35 ) which is best explained by supposing some error in reading an Aramaic document.

George Farmer.


Copyright Statement
These files are in the public domain.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for ‘Gluttonous’. Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament. http://www.studylight.org/dic/hdn/view.cgi?n=1075. 1906-1918.

Don’t we gangs of sinners and of gluttons need also really to include all of the Greek here? I’m playing a bit. I’m playing to make a bit of a point. I’m trying to say that we all tend to equate different things and the same things.

Even if we include LXX Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus 23:6, 31:20, 37:30-31) and LXX Maccabees (3 Maccabees 6:36, 4 Maccabees 1:3, 1:27, 2:7) and NT Titus 1:12 (quoting the so called “Epimenides Paradox”), then we are reading literal things as metaphorical. Literal is metaphorical. That last sentence, you get, as a joke, a literal “ha ha” that’s a funny saying “joke.”

Glutton in English is the glue for lots of biblical Greek notions of gluttony. These Greek notions translate Hebrew ones, and in the NT cases perhaps Aramaic notions, of gluttony. We are gluing these notions together as the same, not different.

Then Rachel Held Evans takes us a step further to say that nobody much condemns gluttony. Not like they do homosexuality. And yet, she says, they’re not “literally” to the “biblical literalist” much different. Same with bullying. All sins. All things that all sinners do. Jesus tended to hang out with them, with all, since all equaled sinners, were sinners all the same. And Jesus was called a glutton, if we literally get the Greek.

My point is that Rachel Held Evans’s point is that we must muddy these waters. What’s gluttonous? Who’s the biggest sinner? How are we to throw the first stone? Why not be more like Jesus this way? When will we stop the bullying?

On being ‘divisive’, On being Christian

“divisive” and “harmful to Christian unity.” ….

This is a common response to those of us who speak from the margins of evangelical Christianity about issues around gender, race, and sexuality, and it’s an effective one because it appeals to something most of us value deeply: Christian unity.

Rachel Held Evans wrote the above after tweeting the following:

Rachel Held Evans is what the church looks like. She speaks up and speaks out as a Christian, as a sister among her brothers and sisters.

She hints, only hints at, the sexism. She calls out the privilege of males without calling them out as privileged males. She compares their blatant or subtle sexism with the blatant or subtle racism of white male pastors opposing the efforts of American black people in the 1960s to gain equal civil rights. Her comparison is not shrill but is soft and understated. Her comparison puts her tweet on par with Rosa Park’s taking a front seat on the bus and the friction it intended:

Obviously, there are issues of privilege at play here. Because the reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. And if friction is equated with divisiveness, then the powerful can appeal to Christ’s call for unity as a way of silencing critics. This was an effective strategy for white clergy who opposed Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, those on the margins are typically working with less power, smaller platforms, thinner finances, and fewer numbers and in the face of subtle but pervasive stereotypes, prejudices, and disadvantages that make it nearly impossible to advocate for change without causing friction.

For example, it always makes me laugh when I’m told that women shouldn’t use social media to advocate for gender equality in the church, but should instead do so quietly within their own congregations. These people seem to have forgotten that social media is often the ONLY platform women have for speaking to the church! That’s kinda what we’re trying to change! And when it comes to discussing gender issues in particular, things get extra challenging because where outspoken men are often described as “passionate,” “convicted,” and “strong,” outspoken women are often perceived as “shrill,” “emotional,” “whiney,” and “bitchy.”  So women speaking about gender issues in the church have a lot working against them when public questions or critiques are automatically dismissed as divisive and whiney.

Just to be clear, Rachel Held Evans is a woman, is a Christian, and is not black.

To be as clear, Rosa Parks was a woman and Christian, but racial equality and racial unity within the churches in America are not issues of the past. And African American men and women, in the church, found more allies in the Jewish community in the 1960s than they did in the white church.

Fortunately, Rachel Held Evans not only blogs and tweets about being a Christian for Christian unity, where the sisters are marginalized by the brothers. She also gets these siblings in the would-be-unified church of Jesus Christ listening to and asking questions of “others.”

For example, she herself asked questions of a “(liberal) [non-Christian, Jewish] Rabbi”; and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat responds:

From RHE: Are there any common assumptions that Christians tend to make about Jews that bug you?

I think the assumptions which bug me tend to be about Judaism writ large, not about Jews as individuals. For instance: the assumption that the Christian understanding of covenant has superceded and obviated the Jewish one, or that Judaism isn’t a legitimate path to God in its own right. That Jesus rendered Judaism moot or obsolete. That Judaism is a tradition of dry, unforgiving legalism while Christianity is a religion of love. That last one probably frustrates me the most, not only because it’s been used to justify some real unpleasantness toward Jews over the last two thousand years, but also because it’s so antithetical to my experience of Judaism.

At the end of the responses, Rachel Held Evans invites her blog readers to continue the dialogue, the listening, beyond their would-be-unified Christianity:

 ***

So great, right?

Be sure to thank [Rabbi] Rachel [Barenblat] on Twitter. And you definitely want to check out her blog. (Her latest post is about Dinah and rape culture!)

The very interesting thing to note here is that this “post … about Dinah and rape culture” is not very Christian at all. It is as Jewish as Jesus.

In her post, Rabbi Barenblat herself speaks up and points out this fact of “Biblical rape“:

In Torah, Dinah is silent (or silenced.) And Dinah is raped. I believe that these two acts of violence against women are connected.

There is the need, the call for, voices and actions of women and men outside the boundaries and borders of the church as well as inside it.

Rachel Held Evans at one point quotes Paul and paraphrases:

we’re called to love each other as brothers and sisters, as people united in one baptism, one communion, one adoption.

There was this point in which Paul exclaimed there’s no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no “boy and girl.”

Couldn’t that also mean there’s no non-Christian and Christian? There’s unity beyond the Church? There’s no Christian privilege? No baptismal privilege? No communional privilege? No adoptional privilege?

No black nor white. No male privilege, no female privilege. No silencing. Period.

cock a snook

At BLT, another place where I blog, one of my co-bloggers (Suzanne McCarthy)

quotes one of the Hebrew Bible scholars (Tremper Longman III)

excerpting one of the co-authors of a particular book (André LaCocque)

writing this:

It is in my opinion the greatest hermeneutical challenge facing a Bible scholar, especially if, as I contend here, the author of the Song was a female poet who intended to “cock a snook at all Puritans,” as says Francis Landy (Paradoxes, p. 17).

After googling a bit, I started snickering a bit, after finding the following.

It is from a novelist, editor, journalist (Justine Picardie)

writing her discovery of a phrase (cock a snook)

cock.a.snook.1

cock.a.snook.2.to.9

cock.a.snook.10

Our Souls, Ourselves: We Pregnant Men

The feminist classic Our Bodies, Ourselves was already out when my father paid me, one of his sons, to memorize parts of the Bible.

My soul earned a dollar for reciting this stanza, yes she did:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

However, my dad didn’t give me, or my soul, the option to make anything from this stanza from the same Bible:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Of course, why would a man like my father want a young man like his son to take deep into his own soul the words of a woman? And besides, this virgin woman pregnant rejoicing is Mary of the Mariologists, not the ones a Southern Baptist Protestant Christian really ought to be learning from. After all, she’s admitting she’s a “servant,” a “bondslave” as the New American Standard Version has it.

Stick with David, who slayed the giant with his stones, my father implied. And besides, this biblical manly man was kingly and wise in his magnificat, “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” After all, he’s clearly no slave of any man and is more of the model of missionary and first Southern Baptist, James Reeves.

How, really, can one compare King David’s Psalm 34:1-3 and this bit of Mother Mary’s Magnificat found in Luke 1:47-49?

Well, let’s assume we really want to do that first. Okay, well then, we go to Luke’s Greek. He has her starting in like this:

Μεγαλύνει
ἡ ψυχή μου
τὸν Κύριον

Yes, her words have gender, and her words for herself and to herself and about herself are female.

My dear feminine motherly soul
Magnifies
the LORD

And yes, yes, the Roman Clementine Vulgate only makes this femininity abundantly clear, which is important, since, as we all know, Latin, like Greek, has other gender options, not only the feminine. So we hear Mary begin this way:

Magnificat
anima mea
Dominum

Mary the wo-man, of course, is not a man. S-he’s not a he. S-he, this wo-man is a fe-male, not a male.

David, of course, is a man. So let’s hear his language. In Hebrew, he starts in this way:

ביהוה
תתהלל
נפשי

The Alexandrian Jewish translator for his Septuagint renders him starting in in Greek this way:

ἐν τῷ κυρίῳ
ἐπαινεσθήσεται
ἡ ψυχή μου

Well, hmm. Well, sure. David’s word for himself, the nephesh, is a feminine noun. This is not his sex. It’s the gender of his grammar. Let’s not get carried away here. Everybody knows he has something, some body part, that Mary lacks. Maybe Luke is making his singing Mary mimic the Septuagint translator’s psalmist David. Well, hmm. They’re both feminine, the nouns that is. Psyche just does what nephesh does. It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that David’s soul, like Mary’s must be, is fe-male.

Never mind that the Roman Clementine Vulgate with its Versio Gallicana makes him saying:

In Domino
laudabitur
anima mea

Jerome is just trying to follow that Alexandrian Jewish fellow with his fancy Hellene. Yes, that’s true. They both have David continuing by saying:

Magnificate Dominum mecum

μεγαλύνατε τὸν κύριον σὺν ἐμοί

See how unclear this is? And, besides, Jerome makes David compel his fellow singers, real men of biblical manhood, to taste and see that the LORD “sweet“:

Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus

This clearly confused Julian of Norwich who wrote of God’s sweetness and of tasting it. And it influenced the whole Monastic West. Even the Septuagint’s Hellenistic Jewish translator in Alexandria wouldn’t go that far.

So back to the Septuagint, then. It does, we must figure, account for the feminine Greek psyche attributed to David by a would-be Greek-speaking David.

He’s sounding a little too much like Plato’s Socrates’s “wise Diotima.” And she says in this bit excerpted from her rather long speech in the Symposium:

Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women
and beget children-this is the character of their love; their offspring,
as they hope, will preserve their memory and giving them the blessedness
and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which are
pregnant-for there certainly are men who are more creative in their
souls than in their bodies conceive that which is proper for the soul
to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions?-wisdom and
virtue in general. And such creators are poets and all artists who
are deserving of the name inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort
of wisdom by far is that which is concerned with the ordering of states
and families, and which is called temperance and justice. And he who
in youth has the seed of these implanted in him and is himself inspired,
when he comes to maturity desires to beget and generate. He wanders
about seeking beauty that he may beget offspring-for in deformity
he will beget nothing-and naturally embraces the beautiful rather
than the deformed body; above all when he finds fair and noble and
well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to such
an one he is full of speech about virtue and the nature and pursuits
of a good man; and he tries to educate him; and at the touch of the
beautiful which is ever present to his memory, even when absent, he
brings forth that which he had conceived long before, and in company
with him tends that which he brings forth; and they are married by
a far nearer tie and have a closer friendship than those who beget
mortal children, for the children who are their common offspring are
fairer and more immortal. Who, when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod
and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary
human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children
such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting
glory? Or who would not have such children as Lycurgus left behind
him to be the saviours, not only of Lacedaemon, but of Hellas, as
one may say? There is Solon, too, who is the revered father of Athenian
laws; and many others there are in many other places, both among hellenes
and barbarians, who have given to the world many noble works, and
have been the parents of virtue of every kind; and many temples have
been raised in their honour for the sake of children such as theirs;
which were never raised in honour of any one, for the sake of his
mortal children.

The critical phrase is

οἳ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς κυοῦσιν

Another English translator renders some of that this way:

when someone has been pregnant with these [seeds of wisdom] in his soul from early youth, while he is still a virgin, and, having arrived at the proper age, desires to beget and give birth, he too will certainly go about seeking the beauty in which he would beget; for he will never beget in anything ugly.

What does this mean for men, for us men?

We can put it away as, chalk it up to the fact that, one Greek man’s Greek woman trying to conceive of Greek male poets as having female souls. I mean, didn’t Aristotle straighten out all of this crooked teaching of Plato’s when he much more clearly parsed out the differences between males and fe-males, bodies and souls?

We can let Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have these lines:

O let the soul her slumbers break,
Let thought be quickened, and awake;

For we know that the American English poet is rendering another’s Spanish verse.

But what do we do with William Wordsworth, the man, whose soul sounds all too much like the man David’s and the woman Mary’s both, all persons, male and female, with female souls pregnant:

But as a face we love is sweetest then
When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look
It chance to wear, is sweetest if the heart
Have fulness in herself; even so with me
It fared that evening. Gently did my soul
Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood
Naked, as in the presence of her God.
While on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch
A heart that had not been disconsolate:
Strength came where weakness was not known to be,
At least not felt; and restoration came
Like an intruder knocking at the door
Of unacknowledged weariness. I took
The balance, and with firm hand weighed myself.
—Of that external scene which round me lay,
Little, in this abstraction, did I see;
Remembered less; but I had inward hopes
And swellings of the spirit, was rapt and soothed,
Conversed with promises, had glimmering views
How life pervades the undecaying mind;
How the immortal soul with God-like power
Informs, creates, and thaws the deepest sleep
That time can lay upon her; how on earth,
Man, if he do but live within the light
Of high endeavours, daily spreads abroad
His being armed with strength that cannot fail.

Real Peace: A Poem

Real Peace (a couple of lines of prose by Evelyn Underhill that I read this morning and made into these lines of poetry)

It does not mean basking
in the divine sunshine like
comfortable pussycats.

It is a peace
that needs
and indeed
produces
a courageous
and yet
humble kind
of
love.

When you remember: Psalm 8

I am wanting to commit to memory Psalm 8. The Hebrew is too ambiguous, and it’s, well, ancient and not well remembered Hebrew. The Hellene translation, likewise, is slippery if for other reasons. (I wrote about that some here.)

The English translation I like the most is the old New English Bible.  It looks like this:

Psalm.8.NEB

Robert Alter, when rendering this Psalm on his own, seems to have used the NEB as a reference.  And I really like how he chose, instead, to make plural “the gods.”

Ann Nyland’s translation considers the Greek more, and yet she transliterates the Hebrew, “the elohim.”

So I decided just to translate the Greek, to forget how Homeric it sounds, and just to flaunt the sounds, in English anyway.  I did retain, as much as possible, the Greek notions of the separations of ground and sky, of horizon, of the earth as below and the heavens as the place above where the gods and goddesses live and send down their angel messengers from time to time in all their glory.

Here then is my rendering of another’s rendering, and it’s how I’m going to try to remember, to recite, Psalm 8.

psalm.8.translatingtranslating